The majority of single parents re-enter the dating process at some point, whether for purely social connection with another adult or for the purpose of finding a partner to spend their life with. After finding someone special, most will struggle with the question of when to introduce the children to this person, how to introduce them and the degree to which they should be involved in the lives of their children.
A common underlying thought process during this time is what happens if my children grow fond of this person and we end up breaking up? Will I be putting them through another “divorce” of sorts and damage them further? On the other hand, some have little concern for the children and purely see dating as something for themselves and that their kids are not affected by it unless they get to that “serious” stage. So what’s the right approach?
Introduction Vs. Integration
Personally, I come from the position that our children need to be, at least on some level, a part of the dating process we are entering into. In almost every case, our children have no say in the divorce. That was certainly true for me. My children were “told,” not “asked.” And when it came to me remarrying, I did not line up several “potential” candidates for the position of wife and have my kids select the most appropriate woman for the job! In other words, they really didn’t have much of a say in the selection of my new wife, either.
However, just because our kids don’t really have a say in who we eventually marry doesn’t mean that they can’t be a part of the dating process. Unfortunately, we are often so eager for our children to like the person we are dating that we push this person on them. I was that way with the first woman I dated after my divorce. What I learned is that while my children wanted to know about the person I was dating and even be introduced to that person, they didn’t want that person to be a regular presence in their world right away. Rather than trying to integrate that person with them, I simply needed to introduce her to them and let them indicate to me the level of involvement they wanted to have in the process.
Communication Is The Key
We need to talk to our kids and connect with them regularly throughout the dating process. Communication is the key to making them feel involved and is how they will let you know to what level they want to be involved.
In a study by Ferguson & Dickson (1995) in the Journal of Applied Communication Research*, 10 children between the ages of 8 and 18 were interviewed by asking specifically designed questions about their parents’ dating process. They found that it is important to children that they have a sense of connection to their parent, especially through communication, as the parent is connecting to someone else. Children have a desire to know about the person their parent is dating as well as what is happening during the dates. Not knowing creates concern and distress on their part. But while they want to know as much information as they can get, children have a sense of boundaries when it comes to how their parents’ date interacts with them, communicates with them and is involved in family activities.
I think we can see that while the purpose of dating may be all about us being connected or finding that life partner, the process of dating involves the whole family. Rather than trying to force the integration of our dating partner into the family, we need to take the approach of introduction and allow our kids to set the pace of integration by regularly communicating to them and listening to their opinions and perspectives.
* Ferguson, S.M., & Dickson, F.C. (1995). Children’s expectations of their single parents’ dating behaviors: A preliminary investingation of emergent themes relevant to single parent dating. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 23, 308-324.